Fair Use Project, International Documentary Association, MPAA, and Film Independent Ask Fourth Circuit to Recognize Creators’ Interest in Repurposing Copyrighted Material for Historical Use

Frederick Bouchat has been serially litigating against the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens organization for more than a decade. Bouchat continues to press his claims that the NFL and the Ravens cannot display in any context the original Ravens’ Flying B logo (the logo they used from 1996 through 1998, found to infringe Bouchat’s copyright in his Shield drawing). A jury long ago determined that Bouchat is not entitled to any monetary damages. Instead, Bouchat now seeks injunctive relief against the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens, arguing that the NFL’s incidental use of the logo in several documentaries and in displays at the Ravens’ stadium infringed his copyright.

On Monday, we filed an amicus brief on behalf of the International Documentary Association, MPAA, and Film Independent urging the Fourth Circuit to affirm the District Court’s ruling that the NFL’s use of footage in which the Flying B logo showed up fleetingly in three historical documentaries and the appearance of the logo in historical artifacts on display at the Ravens’ stadium constitute fair use. The right to use copyrighted material to document, depict, and discuss historical events is critical to filmmakers, news organizations, public broadcaster, television networks, and anyone else looking to present a truthful, realistic account of events in any audio or visual medium. By seeking injunctive relief in this case, Bouchat seeks the right to control any use of the Flying B logo that is even remotely commercial, regardless of context. In other words, he seeks the power to rewrite history.

Bouchat’s arguments fly in the face of a long line of fair use decisions protecting creators’ right to accurately and effectively depict the real world and create truthful narratives without permission from copyright holders. Such a right is crucial to ensuring creators’ freedom from the demands and conditions copyright holders would inevitably set on such a grant of permission (or their flat refusal to do so). That freedom, in turn, is necessary for creators to engage in cultural criticism without reservation. We hope the Fourth Circuit takes a strong stand for free speech and fair use by affirming the district court’s decision.

Photo Credit: Maryland GovPics

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